After posting thirteen Great Things About Alaska I got calls to post a list giving equal time to the other side of life in the Last Frontier (Tim? Are you there?) I don't like being negative but I suppose to be perfectly fair I ought to present the reasons why Alaska may not be for you (you knew there had to be plenty of reasons otherwise why would everyone be living in California?)
So don't say I didn't warn you. Presenting thirteen things I miss here in Alaska. Sniff. Really miss!
1. Krispy Kreme. And for that matter Olive Garden, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, and Williams-Sonoma. What other stores or restaurants are we missing? We're about to get a Target . . . but the worst, the WORST part about not having a Pottery Barn is that if you order something from their catalog they rob you blind on the shipping, it'll cost you more to ship the item than the item is worth. I'd understand it if it cost them more to ship it up here but air shipping is air shipping. It doesn't cost them any more to get it up here but they figure we must be loaded or something and can afford paying $50 to ship a napkin ring. In protest I'm boycotting and you just wait, I'll bring down The Man--you'll see.
Oh! And about Krispy Kreme--we Alaskans are so desperate for these guys that it's common for people to have a cargo of them overnighted up here to sell in fundraisers. You'll see a stand set up in a parking lot advertising Krispy Kremes to benefit the women's shelter or something. There's a Krispy Kreme next door to the airport on Maui and you'll see Alaskans carrying boxes of donuts on the flight home.
2. Drive-in movies. I'm not even going to get started on not having U23D or IMAX theaters--the subject is just too painful and my therapist says I'll never get over it if I keep talking about it ("Is she serious? Does she really have a therapist?") Oh how I really miss drive-in movies. But what's the point of having them when it's not dark enough in the summer to see the screen properly? And there's not really anyone lining up to see one in the winter--funny thing. We used to go to the drive-in in Orem and I'd back my little Nissan Sentra coup into the stall, pop the back hatch, put down the seats then recline against pillows to watch the movie--is there anything more American and "remember when?" than that?
3. Fruit trees. Oh how I miss these. We can grow crab apples and some arctic strains of apples but otherwise gardening is limited to the cold-weather basics. Gardening gurus here claim that in some micro-climates around town you can grow special strains of pears and cherries but I've never known anyone successful with these. I guess that's what you get for living in a Zone 2--no asparagus, melons, pumpkins, peppers, cucumbers or citrus.
When Andrew and I were at school in Utah we lived in an apartment complex that had apricot trees on the grounds and I remember taking a walk one morning and finding apricots lying all over the lawn where they'd dropped. I was so fascinated by the idea of fruit just GROWING in nature like that and couldn't bear the thought of apricots just lying there that I gathered up as many as I could hold and took them home. Not that I knew what to do with them because they weren't for eating and were all overripe but they sat on my counter for a while as a mute testimony to my desire for fruit trees. I long for a garden where I could grow limes, mangoes, grapefruits, or plums.
4. Road trips. From Anchorage you can drive for seven hours north and finally hit Fairbanks. Five hours south and you'll find Homer but you can't drive to most settlements in the state. Juneau is only accessible by air or water, ditto Sitka and Ketchikan (Hi Terri!) You can't drive to to many places, you have to fly (which is why so many people have pilots licenses here) and to drive to the Lower 48 you have to go north from Anchorage for six or seven hours then hang a right at Tok and head south through Canada. With conditions like these who takes road trips? We don't drive anywhere--at least not like people down south do.
When we lived in Washington D.C. we drove up to New York City for the President's Day weekend and I couldn't believe that after driving for an hour we'd been through four states. FOUR of them! Amazing. I love driving long distances and seeing new places, Andrew and I have drove from California to Washington D.C. and back again and loved every mile of it. Some day I'm going to start in Maine and drive right down the coast, following it all the way until I hit New Orleans. Someday.
5. Sidewalks. With snow on the ground six months out of the year it's hard to keep sidewalks properly plowed so few places in Anchorage have them. You'll find them all through the downtown area and in one or two of the nicer suburbs but otherwise no sidewalks. It really bugged Andrew at first, you'd think it was the make-it-or-break-it issue for him, representing the line between civilization and the beasts but he's got used to it.
Who needs sidewalks when we have bike trails? I can't say this is a fact but Anchorage might have more bike trails than any other city in the U.S. We'd be a top contender I'm sure. Running is very popular here so for six months the trails are used for running and biking and the other six months they're used for cross-country skiing. Darn practical if you ask me.
Oops! I'd better watch it or I'll get too optimistic for this post. I'm concentrating on things I miss, right? Uh--I guess to get back to the negative side you have to be careful running all over the trails winter or summer because in some places you could encounter a moose or a bear. Or even a pack of wolves. Up near Elmendorf AFB earlier this winter they were having trouble with a pack of wolves roaming around and eating people's dogs in an Alaskan version of poodle antipasto. Not pleasant. Not exactly your average raccoon or squirrel infestation.
6. Oak and elm. Right there with the sidewalks are the large, beautiful trees you find lining the avenues in other cities. To have quaint streets where the trees arch in graceful canopies over the road, providing shade in the summer and acorns in the fall would be so wonderful. We have spruce, birch, aspen, alder, willow and the odd Japanese maple that pops up here and there as the latest craze in suburban landscaping but that's it--no beech, oak, elm, chestnut, hickory or walnut. I'd never seen an acorn until I moved away to college.
7. Warm summer nights. Right there with my first acorn was my first lightning storm. We don't get warm enough in the summer for much lightning here. You may have a freak day where you get a few rumblings but even with that it's too light outside to actually see a fork of electricity. I still remember standing at my dorm window watching a brilliant storm light up the sky and I was in awe. My room mates all made fun of me of course--I mean you're a hick if you haven't seen a lot of things but if you haven't seen lightning you're just a freak. I wish we had more storms like that.
8. Crickets. No warm summer nights and no darkness means no crickets. I'm sure there are people somewhere who might find cicadas, crickets, katydids, fireflies, etc. irritating but to me they're just lovely. The soft, rhythmic chirping in the evenings is just the quaintest, most relaxing thing and I wish we had them here. We do have an occasional grasshopper or cricket show up in my garden but you never hear any at night. Ever--just mosquitoes and they only buzz. In your ear. While you're trying to sleep.
9. Manicured roads and public places. The ground is frozen year-round in most of Alaska, even in a great part of Anchorage, and as I come from a family of civil engineers where permafrost was the bread and butter I guess I'm okay with that. However, it makes things like utility lines, septic tanks and cemeteries difficult (though not so much in Anchorage). To put in something like an automated sprinkler system is pretty frivolous given the circumstances and without watering systems it's hard to keep public parks and lawns well watered and manicured like you'd see in San Diego.
Add to that the gravel that gets dumped on the roads in winter to keep cars from sliding and the medians of every road are gravelly, dusty messes. The freezing and thawing that the roads go through produces pot holes worse than a teenager with the world's worst case of acne and all the chunks of asphalt get thrown up along the roads making for a very rugged, wild and rustic look. It can be pretty in places where wild flowers have sprung up but you'll never see lush medians filled with green ivy like you would in Seattle or pretty little rows of orange trees along the streets like you would in Phoenix. Nope, sorry.
10. Astronomy. Well, actually we have astronomy of course (it's not like we don't have the same stars and planets and moon as the rest of you) but it's not easy to study. You can't see anything in the bright summer nights and in the winter when it finally gets dark it's too darn cold to venture outside with your telescope--you'd freeze your little peepers right to the eye piece! This really kills me because I'd love to have one of those Mead telescopes where I could go out and view the stars on warm summer nights but it just isn't going to happen. That's what vacations in Hawaii are for apparently.
11. Warm water. When we lived in North Dakota we used to head out into Minnesota on weekends to spend a day at the lake. I'd never done anything so fun in all my years in Alaska because the water here doesn't ever get warm enough to comfortably swim in. It's cold. As in freezing one's giblets cold.
Many of the lakes and streams are fed by glaciers which means it's like swimming in ice water (how pleasant, not to mention dangerous) and the ones that aren't just don't get enough summer heat to warm them up properly. There are a few exceptions--up at Big Lake north of Anchorage you'll find people jet skiing or water skiing on the water but the smart ones are wearing wet suits--and most of you would probably think they were crazy for even that. No beaches, no swimming.
We didn't even have many swimming pools here in town when I was growing up, just one or two at the high schools, because the freezing and thawing made them difficult to build and therefore making pools expensive. There are more nowadays of course but it sure made it hard to learn how to swim.
12. History. Sure there have been people living in Alaska for thousands of years but modern history is rather sparse. Anchorage had just graduated from being a tent town when my grandparents moved here back in 1949 and it's still a new place. People don't retire here typically and the median age is somewhere around 30. It's young! So to compare it to a place like Boston where I walked down streets crowded with ghosts and every building was an historical landmark Anchorage comes up historically lacking. It's kind of funny, the latest thing in the schools is to have courses on Alaskan or Anchorage history and I can't help but wonder what they teach--seriously, it could take all of three hours to cover the basic points but they somehow stretch it into a semester.
13. Four seasons. We only have three: summer, winter and break-up. Haven't heard of break-up? No, it's not the holiday following Valentine's Day it's the official title given to the period of time in Alaska when the snow finishes the last stages of melting and the ground thaws, leaving that nasty, rotten, fetid smell that anyone who's ever smelled it will never forget. It's the season when the snow finally melts, revealing all the trash that has blown out of the back of pickup trucks for the past six months. It's the season when the grass is mushy, smashed and brown and everything is covered with a thick layer of smelly mud.
Essentially, if Alaska were a beautiful woman--perhaps for the sake of argument the most beautiful woman in the world--one with long flowing hair, creamy pale Nordic skin and forget-me-not blue eyes then break-up would be the time when you woke up next to her and she was without make-up, her hair rather matted and her mouth reeking of morning breath. You'd wonder what on earth you'd got yourself into but then once she was showered and dressed and done up right you'd remember. Yup, that would be break-up. Be glad if you're missing it--and then plan on visitng Alaska in June after she's showered and put together properly.
So there you have it, thirteen reasons that balance out the previous list--so how do you feel about moving now?
If you missed it, there's a new Write-Away Contest topic for March posted and running--are you game?
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